Notre Dame WR Chase Claypool heating up in November once again

Tyler James | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Chase Claypool made the catch sound mundane.

The Notre Dame wide receiver left the ground while running to the sideline, secured the pass from quarterback Ian Book and managed to drag the toes of his right foot in bounds before his left foot landed out of bounds.

To fully appreciate the acrobatics required of the 6-foot-4, 229-pound senior to complete that catch, the play from Notre Dame’s game-winning drive in last Saturday’s 21-20 dramatic win over Virginia Tech must be watched in slow motion — and then again at full speed.

On the sidelines, Irish wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander leaned back as if coaxing Claypool’s right foot to scrape the turf. A few Notre Dame teammates pointed to the ground to convince the officials that Claypool managed to get his foot down.

After the officials signaled a completed catch, defensive end Khalid Kareem and cornerback Shaun Crawford started jumping up and down in excitement. Defensive end Jamir Jones offered a reenactment of the catch by dragging his toes on the turf.

In the midst of the chaos, Claypool got up off the ground — the laws of physics required him to fall on the sideline after a maneuver like that — and calmly walked back onto the field.

Three days after Claypool made the catch, with the AP/CFP No. 15 Irish (6-2) already turning their focus to Saturday’s game at Duke (4-4), he still acted as if nothing out of the ordinary occurred.

“That’s something I do in practice on the same play,” Claypool said. “It’s something we work on. It’s not anything really new. I’m happy it worked out. Practice makes perfect really.”

Claypool might be downplaying the catch, but Irish cornerback Troy Pride Jr. verified that Claypool makes catches like that in practice. He joked after the game that Claypool’s foot has gotten the best of him on multiple occasions.

As the officials reviewed the play to confirm that Claypool made the catch to give Notre Dame a first down at the 33-yard line with 1:10 left, Alexander knelt down to help Claypool fix the shoelaces on the right shoe that completed the catch.

For as much coaching Alexander can do on sideline catches, some of what Claypool did likely can’t be taught. The momentum of his body should have resulted in his left foot hitting the ground first, but he made sure it didn’t.

“Coach Alexander was telling me I do it in a weird way,” Claypool said. “It’s something I’ve always done. I actually have a decent feel for where the sideline is.”

While undoubtedly his most impressive catch of the game, Claypool had an even more important reception four plays later. He caught a 26-yard pass on fourth-and-10 to keep Notre Dame’s game-winning drive alive.

”He’s awesome,” Book said after the game. “He works hard every day and he’s a leader on our offense, makes my job a lot easier, so I can’t thank him enough.”{/span}

Book leaned on Claypool, who finished the game with eight catches for 118 yards, when he needed help the most. Even after Claypool dropped what should have been an easy catch on the first play of the drive.

“It just comes down to trust,” Claypool said. “He trusts me, and I trust him. Even when I don’t make the play, he’ll come back to me, which just adds to the trust that I have in him and that he has in me.”

Claypool sent a text message to offensive coordinator Chip Long after the game thanking him for trusting him after the dropped pass as well.

“He knows if I drop a pass it probably won’t happen again,” Claypool said. “As a confident receiver, if I drop one pass, I look at it as a fluke and not something to beat myself up over.”

Confidence matters, and Book didn’t lack for confidence heading into the final drive either.

“He was super excited, which was weird to see,” Claypool said. “He was super happy. He just said, ‘Let’s get excited. We’re about to go score.’ That was kind of reassuring for everyone else.”

Given how he played the week prior in a 45-14 loss to Michigan and the fact he threw two interceptions earlier in the Virginia Tech game, Book’s confidence could have been shaken. The backlash thrown at Book on social media in the days following the Michigan game even prompted Claypool to share public support on Twitter.

Claypool used parts of a famous quote from former president Theodore Roosevelt to let everyone know he had Book’s back.

“‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,’” Claypool wrote on Twitter to accompany a black and white photo of Claypool and Book embracing each other. “‘The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’

“Let’s ride, 12.”

Book wears No. 12.

“It’s showing support for one of your brothers,” Claypool said of his motivation for the tweet. “It’s important. It helps no matter what the situation is, no matter what someone’s going through, especially a guy like Ian. If anyone knew Ian, they would know he didn’t deserve any of that.”

The comments directed at Book, which included calls for him to be benched and replaced by backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec, were hard to miss even for his teammates. Claypool said the criticism following the Michigan game should have been directed at the entire team. He also pointed to the weather as a big factor in Book’s performance.

“There’s not much a quarterback can do,” Claypool said. “It’s a tough position that he was in.”

Claypool said he put Book in a tough position against Virginia Tech on Book’s second interception of the game. Book intended to hit Claypool with a potential touchdown throw of 33 yards into the north end zone of Notre Dame Stadium. But Claypool was double covered, the pass was thrown into the wind and safety Divine Deablo was able to cut underneath Claypool and cornerback Caleb Farley to intercept the pass.

Claypool was open and likely would have had a touchdown if Book threw the ball farther. Claypool insisted he should have played the ball better knowing Book was throwing into the wind.

“The wind kind of took it. Most of the times I would go attack that and at least bat it down,” Claypool said. “I kind of took a deep dive.”

Claypool typically delivers when Book throws his way. The two have connected for 37 catches for 554 yards and four touchdowns on 65 targets this season. Claypool leads the Irish in both receptions and receiving yards.

If Claypool finishes the season like he finished the last two, he’ll remain the go-to target in Notre Dame’s offense. Something about November seems to bring out the best in Claypool.

“It’s going pretty well,” Claypool said of his season. “Obviously there’s some food left on the table, but that’s what the second half of the season is for. Just trying to keep this roll going. Me and Ian are getting in a good rhythm. That’s going to continue.”

For the third straight season, Claypool set a season-high in catches and receiving yards in the first game of November. In 2017, Claypool caught nine passes for 180 yards and one touchdown in the Nov. 4 win over Wake Forest. In 2018, he recorded eight catches for 130 yards in a Nov. 3 win over Northwestern. His eight-catch, 118-yard performance against Virginia Tech last weekend came on Nov. 2.

Before this season, 36 of Claypool’s 84 career catches, 569 of his 1,122 career receiving yards and five of his six career receiving touchdowns came in November. As the weather chills, the Canadian heats up.

Fair warning to the Blue Devils.

“They’ll play a lot of man,” Claypool said, “which is good for our receivers to try to get after them.”

Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool (83) drags his foot as he makes a catch during the game-winning drive for the Irish against Virginia Tech.
Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool (83) celebrates after making a fourth-down catch during the game-winning drive for the Irish against Virginia Tech.